Thursday, January 5, 2012


In Sophia-Maria: A Holistic Vision of Creation, author Thomas Schipflinger summarizes his thesis as follows:
"The point of view expressed in this book is that Sophia as She is described in the Old Testament is created (as indicated by Prov. 8,22). She is the beginning of creation, the Soul of the World and creation's final goal, i.e. Omegarcha. She is the image of the maternal Holy Spirit, which is the feminine principle of the Holy Trinity. She incarnated in Mary and became the Mother of Jesus Christ and the Mother of the Church in order to assist the Logos with the plan of salvation for humanity and the world (just as She had assisted with the world's creation.)" [*I would add here that the word "created" is not used in all translations and when used seems to have varying shades of meaning, so I have continued to explore the nature of Sophia in later posts.]

The idea that the Holy Spirit is feminine is an ancient one, and intuitively I have understood this for some time, but it has been argued that Mary could not have conceived of Jesus by a female spirit. When I read Luke 1:35 myself, I received a revelation in the text that I thought was original, but then I found my theory echoed  by Schipflinger. We both recognize two divine principles reflected in this passage: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy child to be born will be called 'Son of God.'" The Holy Spirit is the receptive, feminine principle who comes upon Mary, preparing and strengthening her to receive the active, male principle referred to as "the power of the Most High."

The divine feminine and masculine come together in Mary to conceive Jesus. Furthermore, I intuit that Sophia, who dwells in Mary (my belief) and mirrors God's power and glory (according to scripture), is the Primordial Mother, the spiritual "glue" that helps make this conception in the flesh possible. Whether Sophia dwelled in Mary from the moment of her own conception, or whether this occurred when the Holy Spirit came upon her I'm not sure. However, Gabriel calls Mary "full of grace" before Jesus is conceived, possibly implying that the pure, Virgin Spirit Sophia was already present. Identification of the Virgin Mary with Sophia is most thoroughly developed within the traditions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, though Catholicism links Mary as an embodiment of Sophia as well, just not to such a literal degree.

But doesn't this theology do exactly what Protestants accuse Catholics of doing, and which Catholics are vehement in denying--that is, to elevate Mary to the level of goddess? Oh, that word! People seem to metaphorically run screaming at even the idea of goddess, conjuring images of ritual sex and dancing naked around a fire, out of control and daring to imagine God as Mother. Yet we have already covered the ground of understanding that the metaphor Father is meant to be inclusive of the feminine.

In In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol, author Sally Cunneen refers to the popular folk piety of the Medieval era, describing the mingling of Mary and the mother goddess, using pre-Christian symbols, such as this gypsy version of a folk ballad:
   And carry home your ripened corn,
   That you've been sowing this day...
   And keep Christ in your remembrance
   Till the time comes round again.

Cunneen writes, "Emphasis on the Mother and her Son rather than the Father who was in heaven reflects a degree of continuity in iconography between Mary and earlier goddesses whose functions she now assumed." In other words, the common, peasant people living close to the land intuitively recognized in the story of Jesus and Mary echoes of more ancient forms of religion with which they were accustomed and which were embedded in the collective unconscious. The idea of an all male God did not reflect their experience as humans created in the image of God and their deep connectedness to the earth. As Christians literally replaced the shrines of goddesses with chapels dedicated to Mary, Mary came to be understood as the sacred feminine, the Divine Mother of God the Son, with Jesus and Mary representing in real, human form the mythologies with which the peasants were familiar. This spirituality worked within the context of their lives, experiences, and inner needs.

Catholic artist Meinrad Craighead, known for her Crow Mother paintings, "has absorbed earlier ecclesiological imagery, as well as many of the attributes of pre-Christian worship of the Goddess, into a distinctive Christian spirituality...She shares with many women a need for the feminine divine, which they do not find mediated in mainstream religion. Despite its hierarchical structure, the Catholic church offers great latitude to individuals and groups to focus on different aspects of the divine reality in their private devotions, and to select those most helpful to their spiritual growth." (Cunneen)

Craighead's "vision is a fruitful reintegration of authentic pagan spirituality into a developed Christian consciousness. She reaches back to primeval awareness of the divine feminine and reintegrates it within a humble, communal Christianity of which Mary is the chief representative." (Cunneen)

Can this reintegration be accomplished? It seems that artistic and poetic vision, like that of Craighead, must lead the way. Focusing solely on the written scripture leads to a limited, dry, and very often controversial view of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with myriad interpretations by various denominations being claimed as the only, possible truth. Perhaps to further the moral and ethical teachings of Hebrew monotheism, the role of the sacred feminine was thrown out in what was perceived to be a necessary step. Sometimes radical measures are taken to affect change, and the pendulum swings too far in one direction. I am deeply indebted to the Catholic church and the Catholic writers who have introduced me to the honoring and veneration of Mary and her reflection of the feminine face of God. At the same time, there is still a certain air of caution always on the wind, not to raise her too high, and not to proclaim directly and out loud that God is as much Mother as Father. Well, there, I said it.

I will keep reading on the topic of Mary, and studying the Bible, and endeavoring to integrate the sacred feminine with the sacred masculine, within the Christian tradition. I would not have it otherwise. I think I have reached a point in this journey where spiritual practice, prayer, and meditation, incorporating devotion into the whole fabric of life, must be fully entered into, beyond the literal placing of various pieces into the puzzle so that it makes logical sense. Belief comes first, then understanding follows. Perhaps the Catholic Church has unintentionally limited the mystery of Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus by too narrowly defining every teaching, with no varying interpretations allowed (ie. the issue of perpetual virginity). Then again, perhaps there is yet some room, at least within the area of private devotions. Protestants have for the most part overlooked Mary entirely. Even in the modern effort to reevaluate her role in salvation and give her higher honor, there is certainly no theology being developed regarding Mary's full spiritual presence, as is found in Catholiscim. For my part, it is time to boldly go, to seek a brave new world.

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